Bell Pottinger’s David Wilson offers three tips to help you communicate well about changes in your organisation
14th June 2013
As we’re constantly being reminded, the current business climate remains unpredictable. It makes sense that companies, regardless of sector, are reviewing the way they work to stay ahead. External factors, such as fluctuating markets and the increased pace of the digital revolution are catalysts for such change, and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
With this in mind, the case for keeping employees informed and engaged becomes stronger than ever before. As many of us have experienced, times of transition can be both worrying and stressful – and the worst thing organisations can do is keep people in the dark.
There’s a well-known model referred to as the Change Curve, which neatly illustrates the emotional reactions people experience when undergoing significant change or upheaval. The journey beings with denial and resistance and ends with hope and commitment. This is based on work conducted by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, who observed terminally ill patients in the 1960s. Of course, the amount of time this takes will vary widely and depending on the extent of change, company culture and each individual’s reaction.
The focus on human emotion couldn’t be of more importance within change communications. Team the Change Curve theory with some practical suggestions and you’ll be well equipped to tackle any form of organisational change.
Three key principles:
1. Whether you’re a team of 20 or 20,000, the same rules apply in order to keep staff onside and engaged. Of course, the larger the organisation, the more difficult it can be to relay important information and in a timely manner. But to avoid unnecessary anxiety and reduced levels of engagement, consistent use of a variety of channels – from face-to face-meetings to intranet webcasts – will help employees both on and offsite feel sufficiently informed. What won’t land well is a repetitious stream of unplanned, untargeted company-wide emails, especially if the changes are of a sensitive nature.
2. Strong leaders are needed more than ever during times of change. Leaders are often described as change agents, in terms of their ability to steering those affected through the different stages of change. Initiating and implementing large-scale transformation requires well-developed management skills, including clear and confident communication skills. But it also calls for less obvious attributes such as a visionary mind-set, the flexibility to alter the direction or speed of change and, of course, the ability to deftly manage challenges that will inevitably arise.
3. Communications must be well-planned, clear and open. Rushing to distribute an important internal statement and sending it out late via email is ill-advised. A well-planned verbal communication – presented face-to-face where possible – and delivered in a timely manner, will set the right tone and help allay any rumours or concerns that often fill gaps in communication.
Make sure you answer the question “What’s does this mean for me?” for each employee, where possible. Too many companies, whether intentional or not, communicate at too high a level, so that people cannot work out how changes will affect them personally.
In a similar vein, ensure messages aren’t peppered with jargon or are so vague that they don’t add anything to the conversation. Transparency at all times will increase levels of trust and help maintain engagement levels, protecting an organisation’s productivity and ultimately, profitability. This may all sound obvious, but it’s surprising just how many companies rush their communications, treating it as a tick-box exercise by communicating without key information.
Ignoring these steps will only frustrate employees, demonstrating a lack of commitment, care and ultimately, trust. Without winning the hearts and minds of your internal audience, it will be almost impossible to convince anyone externally.
David Wilson is group MD at Bell Pottinger